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City clears the air on parking plans

Alexander Sinn • Apr 20, 2019 at 11:00 AM

Over the past 15 years, Grand Haven has been the subject of numerous studies to help determine a plan for parking in its downtown.

Officials say growth in the downtown is inevitable, but the city’s footprint is near its limit, and the only option is to grow upward. Among potential solutions for this growth are a citywide paid parking system and a parking garage. Parking fees would be necessary to fund the structure, officials say.

While both ideas have drawn the ire of some residents and business stakeholders, city officials say neither of these options are on the table — at least not yet.

Business leaders and residents gathered Thursday morning at the Grand Haven Community Center as City Manager Pat McGinnis guided the group through the city’s parking studies. The city aims to work with stakeholders to develop a plan, but McGinnis said no projects are in the works.

“Any idea that we’re ready to build this thing is not true,” he said. “We’re just getting our ducks in a row so we know what we’re talking about.”

Some residents reacted negatively when the City Council last October discussed where a parking structure would fit in the downtown. Signs have cropped up around town urging the public to say “no” to the parking structure.

McGinnis said the opposition is premature.

“We’re talking about setting the stage for new private investment that will not occur without new parking inventory,” the city manager explained. “Studies show us there’s not a lot of room at the inn.”

The idea is not to add more parking for tourists, McGinnis said, but to increase the city’s overall inventory.

The Zephyr building, at the corner of Franklin Avenue and South Harbor Drive, has a per-square-foot value of about $858.19, McGinnis said. That’s in contrast to the $15.66 value of a property on the city’s east side, he said. So the city stands to benefit from further downtown development, he explained, seeking to occupy the “air” above current real estate.

The question remains where new residents, employees or customers are going to park. In 2016, the city’s Downtown Development Authority sought to waive parking requirements for developers, but the City Council denied the request.

In 2016, the city developed a 3- to 5-year plan to pursue several avenues for generating revenue, including a downtown parking fund, a special assessment district and metered parking.

“It’s time,” McGinnis said Thursday, to start implementing a plan.

Most recently, the city hired Walker Consultants to consider various sites for a parking structure. It was determined the city’s public lot at the Grand Armory, near the corner of Second Street and Franklin Avenue, was the best location, due to the existing lot’s high usage. A $6.7 million project would erect four additional levels and 310 total spaces — a net increase of 230 spaces. The operating cost would be $565,000 over 20 years.

McGinnis said other communities similar to Grand Haven have had success with parking fees. He said the city’s 1,409 downtown spaces are costing the city an estimated $563,000 annually.

“The idea that it’s free right now is a fallacy,” he said. “Parking is not free. Somebody is paying for it.”

Sara Rathbun, owner of The Baker’s Wife, 107 Washington Ave., said she is “excited” about a downtown parking structure. She said it would free up spots for customers.

Downtown businessman Steve Loftis, who did not attend the meeting, said the city draws visitors whether or not there are open — or free — parking spots.

“We’ve been working hard to create an experience for locals and visitors,” he said. “When you do that, parking becomes less of an intensive question for people coming here. You don’t really care where you park, you just want to go to the game.”

Some residents at the meeting noted concerns for residential parking. One feared the city is losing its small-town feel, saying, “Once you turn that corner, there ain’t no going back. I think you’re on the edge here.”

McGinnis said the next step is to form a committee to come up with recommendations, while more opportunities for community input are in the works.

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